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Early Hominid Diets from Quantitative Image Analysis of Dental Microwear

Article · July 1988with53 Reads
DOI: 10.1038/333765a0 · Source: PubMed
The dietary habits of the early hominids Australopithecus and Paranthropus have long been debated. Robinson argued that the two species differed in the proportions of meat and vegetables consumed. More recently it has been suggested that Paranthropus, with its presumably larger body size, simply processed greater amounts of the same foods eaten by Australopithecus to maintain 'functional equivalence'. Microscopic dental wear patterns are related to the dietary habits of extant mammals, and quantification of these patterns is useful in distinguishing among primates with different diets. Nevertheless, few attempts have been made to use microwear in the reconstruction of early hominid diets, and only very recently has the quantification of such data been initiated. While microwear fabrics can be reduced to individual elements (for example, scratches and pits), there is some disagreement over exactly how they should be defined and measured. Fourier transforms have been applied successfully in the study of a variety of physical and biological patterns, and recently they have been used to characterize and distinguish different tooth wear patterns more objectively. Here we report the first combined use of image processing and other quantitative techniques to analyse the dental microwear of early hominids. Our results suggest that Paranthropus ate substantially more hard food items than Australopithecus.
  • ...For example, tooth microwear studies have been of considerable importance for understanding the dietary habits of mammals, which helps in paleoenvironmental reconstruction. Consequently, a number of researches have been conducted to analyzing comparatively tooth wear patterns on extant and extinct mammals, including hominins (Walker, 1976;Walker et al., 1978;Ryan, 1981;Rose, 1983;Teaford and Walker, 1984;Teaford, 1985Teaford, , 1986Teaford, , 1993Grine, 1986Grine, , 1987Grine and Kay, 1988;Teaford and Oyen, 1989;Teaford and Robinson, 1989;Ungar, 1994Ungar, , 1996Ungar and Teaford, 1996;Teaford et al., 1996;Ungar and Spencer, 1999;Solounias and Semprebon, 2002;Athanassiou, 2008, Rivals et al., 2009). However, tooth microwear studies of carnivorous mammals are comparatively scarce (Van Valkenburgh et al., 1990;Goillet et al., 2009;Schubert et al., 2010;Bastl et al., 2012;Stynder et al., 2012), which is particularly evident in the case of ursids (Pinto-Llona, 2006, 2013Peign e et al., 2009). ...
  • ...The key assertion is that harder foods are broken down in compression (normal, axial loading) and leave occlusal surface " pits, " as seen on the teeth of P. robustus (Fig. 1E), whereas softer albeit potentially tougher foods are ground down in shear (lateral, sliding loading), leaving linear striations or " scratches, " as on the teeth of P. boisei (Fig. 1F). The width of individual tracks is typically 1–25 mm, depending on the severity of wear [9, 30, 31, 34]. Jaw motion is an important factor, i.e. normal ( " biting " ) or lateral ( " grinding " ). ...
  • ...162 Microscopic examination of the enamel surfaces of molars and incisors provides 163 data in the form of scratches and pits on the teeth that can be used to infer what 164 members of a fossil taxon were actually eating. Microwear has been utilized to 165 understand the diet of hyraxes, bovids, monkeys, carnivores, and hominins (e.g., 166 Walker et al. 1978; Grine and Kay 1988; Merceron et al. 2004; Scott et al. 2005; 167 Ungar et al. 2008 167 Ungar et al. , 2010b). Traditionally, microwear has been assumed to exhibit 168 scratches on the teeth caused by ingestion of food in the last weeks of the animal's 169 life (Teaford 1988). ...
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